Our Girl start with ‘Our Girl’ — that’s what’s called a signature song. Soph Nathan begins and ends the track with spacey guitar but her instrument screams through the main part of the song as she sings something like “don’t be so mean”, with plenty of poppy “ooh oohs” to boot.
A lead guitarist is usually a pretty important member of any rock band; perhaps not as big a thing since the axe heroes of the ’70s were not so politely put in their place by punk and post-punk, but still a key player. These days, the lead singer tends to grab the limelight. So, when someone combines lead guitar and vocals in a three-piece, they are bound to be the sharpest focus of attention. Paul Weller was always the main man in The Jam, whatever Bruce Foxton thought.
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And Nathan is most definitely the hub of Our Girl, although she stands stage right, rather than front and centre. Still, she often drifts across The Waiting Room’s small subterranean stage to play more cosily with bassist Josh Tyler and drummer Lauren Wilson. Nathan has honed her guitar doodling and shredding as the axe specialist in The Big Moon, where she also gets to do backing vocals. Juliette Jackson is that group’s heart and soul, but Nathan has found hers in Our Girl.
Second song ‘Sleeper’, a 2015 single, has crashing chords from Nathan and a great bass melody from Tyler. The band’s post-shoegaze reputation is reinforced when Nathan does actually stare down at her shoes as she plays out the song’s looping reverb ending. ‘Two Life’ is loud, building to its Breeders-like chorus of “normally, normally…” and a circular riffing conclusion. It’s on last year’s ‘Normally’ EP, like the set’s standout song ‘Whatever’ — a great chugging monster with big, big guitar. Nathan begins alone, strumming her top strings heavily, but soon Tyler and Wilson pile in like the 18-wheel truck from Stephen Spielberg’s ‘Duel’. The bluesy beast ends with its great “Uh, uh, ooh, oh oh” vocal hook.
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‘Heat’ is Nathan’s chance to express and expose herself as a singer-songwriter — it’s “scary for me”, she says. Tyler and Wilson add just a few vocal harmonies while Nathan fingers her guitar and sings jazzily, to create strange melodies, odd discords. ‘In My Head’ is a new track, started by Tyler’s juicy post-punk bass, that speeds up into a psychedelic treat. The fans packed into the little venue cheer when ‘No Big Deal’ from the ‘Normally’ EP bursts into life — ‘Our Girl’ make a lot of noise for three people, Tyler scratching his bass strings, while the loud and hard song combines the clever postmodern sound of Blur with the primeval grunge of Nirvana, especially when Nathan shouts like a reborn Kurt Cobain. “Thank you,” say Nathan and Tyler politely when it ends.
Reverb pours out of Nathan’s amp in ‘Level’ from the 2015 single, her voice ringing clear and clean as she goes through some lovely key changes in this Pixies kind of ballad. “Three, four,” says Wilson to cue the band for ‘Being Around’ from ‘Normally’ — a throwback to proper early ’90s indie, with classic chord progression. A couple of dozen fans near the front are moving heads, shoulders and backs now. “I hope you’re happy, I really do,” sings Nathan, and the punters are. There’s little more time for ‘Our Girl’s’ brand of happiness, as Tyler introduces the last song, ‘Boring’. There’s merchandise for sale: t-shirts “come in two different colours. Have you got the two colours?” Wilson squeaks. ‘Boring’ is long, complex and winding, mixing banging loud bits that spark more of a mini-mosh with slow, smart guitar riffing. Nathan chucks her guitar on the stage, crouches down to her pedals to loop the riff, hits a button to end it, and ‘Our Girl’ are done for the night.
Photo credit: Ian Bourne